MARC: Locomotives not guilty in morning madness
Sun photo/Kenneth Lam
There's good news and bad news about the MARC system this morning.
First the bad: It was a miserable morning's performance on the Penn Line, with delays leading to canceled trains and overcrowding on the ones that did run.
The good news: The two AEM-7 electric locomotiives that recently returned to the tracks after some three years in an Amtrak repair yard were not the culprits.
Jack Cahalan, a spokesman for the Maryland Department of Transportation, explained that the morning's woes (detailed here) were caused by a malfunction in the cab car of the train for which the AEM-7s (one of which is shown above) were providing the power. He said the system that failed was the one that picks up electric signals from the track. Without that system, the train can't run. When one train can't run, there's a cascading effect allong the entire line as equipment fails to find its way into the proper position, Cahalan said. Three trains ended up being canceled.
A brief explainer of how MARC operates might help:
Normally, a locomotive pulls a train in one direction and pushes it back. When the locomotive is pushing from the back of the train, the controls are in the cab car at the front.
This morning the two AEM-7s were positioned at the back of the Train 401. Normally there would be only one engine, but MARC is running the two in tandem while they undergo testing so that if one fails, the other can supply the power. Cahalan said the locomotives performed well, but the cab car problem immobilized the train.
Cahalan said the cab car failure is not unprecedented but hasn't been a recurring problem.
That's a relief for MARC -- and should be for its beleaguered Penn Line riders. If the problem had been one that forced MARC to send one or both of the AEM-7s back into the shop, that would have been close to catastrophic for a system that desperately needs those engines.
And for the reader who wrote last night to report a blinking of the lights on the train being powered by the AEM-7s, Cahalan has an answer: There was a brief loss of contact with the catenary (the overhead wire that brings electric power to the train). He said it was a "temporary issue" that has been resolved.